Various Artists

Best of Wally-O-Productions

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Producer Wally Osborne is not a household name, even to students of Philadelphia soul, but he did involve himself in numerous Philly soul records, as producer, songwriter, and musician. This anthology collects 22 of his productions from 1964-1973 (all but three from the 1960s); none of 'em hits even on a large local scale, let alone a national one. There wasn't a Wally Osborne sound, and the material here (some previously unreleased) -- by obscure artists like Herb Johnson, the Topics, the Four Thoughts, and Bobby Holland -- wasn't of such high quality that it demanded airplay. The CD has its value, though, as further evidence of just how incredibly prolific the Philly soul scene was, years before it peaked commercially in the early '70s, with entrepreneurs like Osborne hustling to get whatever they could together. And even if these have a somewhat generic quality, these are very professional, good-sounding records, displaying the tight arrangements, horn sections, creamy lead vocals, funky guitars (at least on the up-tempo numbers), and effective backup harmonies for which the region was renowned. Some of the better cuts include the previously unreleased "Cement, Plaster & Gold" by the Natural Soul Brothers LTD, which has a very 1970 expansion of the soul format in its jazzy flutes, swelling organ, and looser grooves, and the Passionettes' "My Life Depends on You," with haunting doo wop-indebted harmonies that were very retro (yet appealing) for 1969. The sound quality is usually excellent, although a few tracks seem to have been transferred from acetates and the like.

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